Call for women's rights in Papua New Guinea louder than ever

The women of Papua New Guinea take to the streets to voice their struggle against violence. Photo:Jerry Galea
The women of Papua New Guinea take to
the streets to voice their struggle against
Violence

Women in the Pacific experience some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. There is hope for the future and it will be seen when the women of Papua New Guinea take to the streets to voice their struggle as part of a 16 day international demonstration against violence to women.

Two women from Papua New Guinea flew half way around the world this year to attend a United Nations assembly in New York – to demand their government take responsibility for the ongoing violence faced by women.

Back in July, Tapora Isorua and Sarah Garap attended a meeting held by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. They carried a serious responsibility.

The very same day, the Papua New Guinea government was due to report back on its progress towards protecting the rights of its women. But Sarah and Tapora have seen little progress. They took to the international stage to urge their government to put in place a solid policy to address the “staggering acts of family, community and sexual violence against women” in Papua New Guinea.

"If you educate women;
if you protect them from violence;
if you ensure they have access to
resources like land and credit then
that has a huge impact on
whole families."

Wendy Lee, Oxfam Programme Manager, PNG

Living in the largest of the Pacific Island countries, 67 per cent of women in Papua New Guinea have experienced domestic violence. Most violence against women goes unreported and is often ignored by police.

“What goes on behind closed doors is viewed as a private matter so police either choose to simply ignore cases, or worse still, in many cases they sexually assault women in their protection,” says Salil Shetty, Amnesty International secretary-general.

And with the confirmation that Dame Carol Kidu will retire from Parliament before the next national election in 2012, many fear the situation will get worse. Dame Carol is currently the only female holding a seat in the 109-strong Parliament.

Oxfam’s programme manager for Papua New Guinea, Wendy Lee, believes the political situation for women in the country is “very poor” and has declined over the last twenty years.

Having lived in Papua New Guinea and now a regular visitor to the country, Lee believes many of the problems facing women are being made worse by the steady increase of poverty.

While there was an improvement in development after the country gained independence from Australia in 1975, Lee says conditions have been on the decline since 1990.

The country now sits at 148 out of 182 countries on the international Human Development Index and Lee says the number of people in Papua New Guinea living below the national poverty line has increased 17 per cent since 1996. Papua New Guinea has the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS in the Pacific.

Wyema April, age 3, holds the latest issue of 'Pacific Women Against Violence' magazine. Photo:Jerry Galea
Wyema April, age 3, holds the latest issue
of "Pacific Women Against Violence".

Lee says most women are denied access to education and decent health services and action has to come from the government.

“There needs to be a real recognition that the development research being done all over the world shows the biggest single thing you can do to improve lives and lift people out of poverty is to direct development towards women.

“If you educate women; if you protect them from violence; if you ensure they have access to resources like land and credit, then that has a huge impact on whole families,” she says.

Lee says there is hope for the future and it will be seen when the women of Papua New Guinea will take to the streets to voice their struggle as part of a 16 day international demonstration against violence to women.

The 16 Days of Activism against violence against women is an international campaign involving more than 3400 organisations in 164 countries around the world. Beginning with International Day Against Violence Against Women on November 25, and ending on International Human Rights Day on December 10, these 16 days symbolically link violence against women with our human rights, and emphasise that such violence is a violation of human rights.

Lee says the streets of Papua New Guinea will be full.

This is an abridged version of an article by Erica George, a postgraduate student in Communication Studies at AUT University. It appeared on Pacific.Scoop.co.nz on October 17, 2010. Read the article on Pacific.Scoop.co.nz

Standing in solidarity against sexual and gender-based violence against women

Ending voilence against women Oxfam joined forces with a number of organisations in Wellington on December 8 to stand in solidarity with women in the Pacific who experience some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world.

Dresses were hung on washing lines outside Parliament to visually represent the number of women in the Pacific Islands who suffer from sexual and gender-based violence.

Oxfam report: Violence and insecurity in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Violence and insecurity in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea presents the results of a study conducted in the Hela region of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea over a 16-month period (October 2007 – March 2009). The study had the broad aim of exploring perceptions of insecurity, looking at the scale, nature, triggers and impacts of interpersonal and tribal violence. The main purpose of the study was to generate information for advocacy and to inform the policies and programme development of Oxfam and its local partner in the region, Hela Community Care.

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